The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: May 2006
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Techniques for balance
- The Human Condition: The Snit
- Musings: Reflections on 60
- ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department
- Techniques for balance
I've dealt with so many people who are physically ill when they have to write something, that I thought I'd make a contribution here to physical and mental health by explaining how to write powerfully and quickly.
- Write the way you speak. Don't try to be artificially flowery or appear pseudo-scholarly. Just write as if you were talking to the other party. (The reasons so many politicians sound pompous, is that they don't deliver a speech the way they speak.)
- Brief is always better. Tell the other person only what they need to know, not everything that you know.
- Always try to use examples and/or metaphors, which are the artistry of written communication. Instead of writing, "I'm looking forward to seeing you at the party," write, "You make these parties into special occasions for us, the difference between fine wine and diet soda."
- Learn how to punctuate, match tenses, use grammar correctly, and so on. Once someone writes, "irregardless," the probability is that the intelligent reader is going to lose focus, irrespective of your point.
- Most writing can be organized into an opening (brief, a few sentences), a body (most of the communication), and a closing (again, brief). This applies to a business letter, a book chapter, a report, or a letter of inquiry. Organize your thoughts in that sequence to be best understood.
- Just write. Don't pause and rewrite. Don't search for the perfect word (there is none – a wide variety of words can do the trick). Don't write successive drafts. The labor involved is virtually never rewarded with a significantly better product. Just correct typos and errors.
- If you're uncertain, have someone else read it for comprehension (not style, since our styles, understandably, differ).
- Send it. Submit it. Stop worrying. It's better than you think and probably better than whatever prompted it or whatever will be returned to you.
- Additional hint: Keep a dictionary and thesaurus either nearby or on the desktop of your computer. When you're uncertain of a word's meaning, don't just abandon the word. Look it up.
- Another hint: When you find yourself really enjoying reading something, ask yourself what it is that makes it so good. Then you can practice incorporating those elements in your own writing.
There is a minor classification of people, as peculiar as the platypus which is a mammal that lays eggs (but real, nonetheless), which is that of the perpetual snit.
A "snit" is a state of agitation, usually over a matter so minor that an electron microscope couldn't delineate the issue on its most detailed setting.
The snit is characterized by the person who says, "I appreciated your note, but it would have been nicer if you had personalized it more," and, "Can you imagine interrupting my viewing of a Seinfeld repeat with a news broadcast on some storm someplace?" and, "He keeps tapping his foot – it's so disrespectful!"
An occasional snit can be justified on a bad day, I suppose, but chronic snits are simply unacceptable. When someone peevishly proclaims, "There WAS no attachment to your email!" does it ever dawn on them that perhaps there was, but it didn't reach them, or they ham-handedly deleted it? With the admonition, "You NEVER returned my message, so I simply gave up," is there a sliver of a shred of a possibility that I never received the message?
Snitters never give the benefit of the doubt. And whatever the behavior being manifest to cause the agitation, there is never a doubt that it is manically and maliciously directed at them. "Could they take any longer to order? Don't they know I'm standing here waiting?" "Another new procedure at the bank designed to waste more of my time." "These designers are simply clueless when it comes to my needs."
It's time to turn the page, to leave the station, to open the door, to get on with your life. I can assure you that, if the world had it in for you in particular, you would have been crushed by now.
It's such a huge waste of energy. How can you go through the day with a small boil in the pot permanently fueled? It creates a lot of heat, but no light. I also have observed that a constant snit is like a slow-burning fuse: sooner or later, something is going to explode, but usually at the wrong time. "Fine!" shouted the guy next to me on the plane, "Someone has completed the crossword puzzle in this magazine!" I offered my airline magazine and said, "But isn't the crossword puzzle there to be, well, used?"
"It's just so unfair," he explained. I just prayed that they had his choice of meal later, or who knows what might have happened.
Most self-absorbed people are usually also in snits. That's because anything that's not about them is an interruption and an annoyance.
"Oh, dear, the fire department? What on earth could they want banging on my door at this hour?"
I've sort of had it with all of them. Perhaps I'm in a snit.
A few weeks ago my daughter threw a surprise 60th birthday party for me in Manhattan. I suspected something was going on (in the limo she told me my son was already there waiting for us, and he's never been anywhere already waiting for us) but I didn't know what. I was ushered into a restaurant with
70+ people from extraordinarily different aspects and periods of my life.
It was like viewing a still-life with the components painted by artists from different schools. Nothing seemed to go together. Then I realized that I had to step into the painting myself. The commonality was moi.
It was a truly fabulous time. I was as sociable as the energizer bunny on speed. I kept circulating and interacting. I've no doubt used up my entire extrovert quotient until June 2012, and I'll be running on fumes until then.
They say that 60 is the new 40. "They" could be right. I've never felt better.
I'm continuing to try new business ventures (some fail, most don't, a few have been incredible), explore new vistas (I hope to qualify for my advanced open water diving certification in Turks & Caicos not long after you read this), and enjoy every second (I read Reinhold Niebuhr but also love American Idol).
However, I find myself able to see the ineffable signs of the horizon. It's vague and shimmering, but years ago there was no horizon. Counterintuitively, perhaps, the key is to keep facing it and not look back. Watching your wake simply lulls you to sleep.
When you're young, you think you know everything, but when you age you realize you know next to nothing. (I'm constantly surprised at how stupid I was two weeks ago.) Consequently, a tremendous burden is lifted as you grow older.
I look at life in slower motion now, appreciating the nuances of the brush strokes and the richness of the texture. I admire the muscles rippling just under the skin of my white German Shepherd as he gallops in front of the woods. I'm aware of the sly light reflected by a shifting moon on the evergreens.
I savor the wine and enjoy each bite of food. I've never cared one way or the other about applause, but I am more delighted than ever when someone looks up at me with the rapture of learning.
I had a hard experience at 30 and 40, largely because I was competing against the prowess and formidability of the inexorable march of time.
But 50 slid in more easily, a wealth of reward for past accomplishment and long-delayed maturity. ("Age is such a high price to pay for maturity," observed playwright Tom Stoppard.)
Sixty is like a luxurious coat or a sleek car. Ironically, despite an older body, it's a feeling of effortlessness, of total comfort, of power. The momentum is strong and surging. It fits me well.
And so I march toward the horizon. It's a long way off and there are so many miles yet to travel. It's the thrill of a lifetime.
Due to other commitments, my wife and I arrived at the end of the evening at one of our favorite restaurants, which was sponsoring scholarships in support of the Miss Rhode Island/Miss America competition. Since the owners know us well, we were escorted to the upstairs bar where people kindly organized some food and drink for us as the contestants were cleaning up (they had served dinner).
Over my second martini, the hostess, whom I know and is a striking woman, came over to me with a tiara on her head. I kissed her and told her she looked good enough to compete with anyone there.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You could certainly enter this contest," I offered magnanimously, "and everyone would believe you were a legitimate contestant."
She disentangled from my embrace and seethed, "I'm a winner!"
It wasn't the hostess. It was the reigning Miss Rhode Island.
KICKER: A woman seated next to me heard all this and asked what I did.
She told me she was a director of the pageant and they were in need of one more judge. I told her I was perfect. She asked my qualifications. I explained that I had written 25 books, visited 54 countries, and that that was my Bentley parked outside. She said, "You're perfect!" and that's how I became a judge in the Miss Rhode Island/Miss America Pageant.